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  • Kevin Scarbinsky

This Alabama team just might be the one

This is it. Right here. Right now. This is the one that can finish No. 1. This is the Alabama men's basketball team perfectly positioned and essentially equipped to script that one shining moment and snip the last bit of net. To go where no Alabama men's basketball team has gone before. To reach the Final Four and maybe, just maybe, win the national championship.


To say it can happen doesn't mean it will happen, but for this special team, a long trip down a short road through Bubbleville, Indiana is closer to probable than possible. This isn't a cute remake of "Hoosiers" with a Southern accent. This team has the perfect combination of lights-out shooters, lock-down defenders, unselfish glue guys, cagey veterans and precocious youngsters led by a no-nonsense, no-pretense coach to get it done.


Before you go all Nate Oats and tell me to get the Phog Allen out of here, consider the evidence of 30 games, 24 overall victories and 19 conference wins. You don't top the school's first SEC regular-season championship since 2002 with its first SEC Tournament title since 1991 on a wing and a prayer.


You do it with a conference player of the year in senior point forward Herb Jones who stands fourth (!) on the team in scoring, a conference tournament MVP in sophomore point guard Jahvon Quinerly who comes off the bench (!), a core of three in-state seniors in Jones, John Petty and Alex Reese who take particular pride in wearing the crimson and white.


You want to get out and run and gun? Alabama is 18-0 when it scores 80 points or more, the exact number it needed to put down talented LSU in Sunday's SEC Tournament Championship Game. Alabama has five players who've topped 20 points in a single game this season, eight players who've scored 15 or more. Leading scorer Jaden Shackelford is a human Red Ryder BB Gun liable at any moment to shoot your eye out.


You want to get down in a stance and disrupt the opponent's flow? It was Jones, who doubles as the SEC defensive player of the year, who refused to let LSU's Trendon Watford of Mountain Brook High School cap the game of his life with a title-winning shot by putting a paw on his final jumper. Jones isn't the only Tider who plays at a high level at both ends of the floor. As a team, Alabama is No. 2 in the nation in the gold standard Ken Pomeroy defensive efficiency ratings.


This Alabama team has put itself in position to go beyond its most distinguished predecessors. The last Alabama team to earn a No. 2 seed, Mark Gottfried's 2002 SEC champions, got upset in the second round by a 10 seed in Kent State. The last Alabama team to win the SEC regular-season and tournament titles, Wimp Sanderson's 1987 juggernaut, seemed destined to raise a Final Four banner until it suffered perhaps the most shocking and disappointing loss in program history in the Sweet 16 to Rick Pitino and Providence.


The last Alabama team to finish a season in the AP poll top six, C.M. Newton's special 1976 SEC champs, had a full cupboard of Final Four ingredients, but it had the misfortune to run into eventual undefeated national champion Indiana in the Sweet 16.


Leon Douglas, T.R. Dunn and company lost that game by only five. Closest call for the historic Hoosiers that March.


The road won't be easy or smooth for this Alabama team, but it's extremely doable. Pitino's Iona upstarts aren't bringing college-age Billy Donovan to their first-round matchup. The second-round opponent, UConn or Maryland, has seen much better days. Potential Sweet 16 landmine Texas may be the biggest threat in the region with a trio of athletic bigs. Likely Elite Eight matchup Michigan earned the No. 1 seed for a reason, but it has a key starter out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot.


Navigate those roadblocks, and expect to see unbeaten Gonzaga in the national semifinals. It'll be a good problem to have for an Alabama team constructed to handle just about anything just about anyone can throw at it, the only Power 5 team to win both its regular-season and conference tournament crowns.


So no pressure, but this is it, the opportunity of a lifetime for a proud, accomplished program too often overshadowed and underappreciated in its own state and on its own campus. No more. This is the time, and if they continue to think positive and test negative, this is the team to go where no Alabama team has gone before. To the Four. Get there, and who knows? This just might be the one.


The Alabama hoops torch passes from Leon Douglas (13) to Derrick McKey (31) to Erwin Dudley (35) to Herb Jones.


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